Romney Turns From Foreign Policy to the Economy

Ceding a potentially losing fight over the Bin Laden death, the Republican turns to President Obama's greatest vulnerability.

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Benjamin Myers / Reuters

CHANTILLY, Va. -- Mitt Romney had a tough act to follow.

The Republican presidential contender was stumping in the Virginia 'burbs on Wednesday, just hours after President Obama basked in the glory of a prime-time, nationally televised victory speech from an Afghanistan war zone. The contrast was one of the first of what will be many reminders in the 2012 campaign of the disadvantages of running against a sitting president.

What's more, Romney's first trip to Virginia since he emerged as the presumptive nominee underscores the challenges he faces in catching up to a Democratic campaign that is well under way. Obama already has 13 campaign offices in Virginia, a decisive battleground in his bid for a second term. No wonder Romney decided to beat him to the state; Obama's first "official" reelection rally is slated for Saturday in Richmond.

Accusing Obama of politicizing the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's assassination was yesterday's news and probably a losing battle for the Republican Party anyway. The former corporate executive smartly turned the conversation on Wednesday back to his wheelhouse -- the economy -- in an energetic speech that roused the hundreds of people who jammed a trade show company's warehouse. In a tacit acknowledgment that he can't match the grandeur afforded the commander-in-chief, Romney gave his speech surrounded by cardboard boxes and wooden crates, reminders of his brass-tacks, jobs-first message.

"Americans are tired of being tired of the economy and this president, and they want real change," Romney said. He quipped that when asked how he will turn around the economy, he says, "Look at what the president has done and do the opposite."

The only reference Romney made to the 2001 attacks was a short anecdote about the popularity of commemorative pins sold at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City the following year. "There was a line all the way down the block .... This is a united nation," said Romney, hitting an optimistic, thoughtful note in a campaign that has quickly turned personal and confrontational. Obama started airing a television ad this week in Virginia that accused Romney of shipping jobs overseas and snorts, "It's just what you expect from a guy who had a Swiss bank account."

A super-PAC bankrolled by Romney allies is expected to return fire with television ads in Virginia and other states.

Romney was more interested in using Wednesday's campaign event as a chance to counter the "war on women" line of attack from Democrats than in returning to the foreign-policy debate that has dominated the campaign this week. A Quinnipiac University poll released in late March showed Obama leading Romney by 8 percentage points, largely due to a double-digit edge among women, though a Roanoke College survey found Romney ahead in the state.

Presented by

Beth Reinhard & Alex Roarty

Beth Reinhard is a political correspondent for National Journal. Alex Roarty is a politics writer for National Journal.

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